Worker justice advocates have been waiting for the other shoe to drop since U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Alexander Acosta was confirmed. Last month they got the news they were dreading: during testimony to a Senate subcommittee, Acosta floated a tacit defense of the gutting of the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, which provides training and education for workers and employers on safety and health hazards in their workplaces, and informs workers of their rights and employers of their responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. Target audiences include those who are underserved, have low literacy, and workers in high-hazard industries.
And just this week, a similar subcommittee in the House of Representatives voted to approve deep cuts to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which would eliminate the Harwood grant program.
Low-wage workers and worker-justice advocates are deeply disappointed, to say the least.
Why the concern with one smallish DOL grant program? Because every single day in the United States, 13 people leave for work and never return home. Programs like the Harwood grants are essential in combatting worker injury and death.
For nearly 40 years, more than 2 million workers have learned crucial lessons and skills about workplace safety through the federally funded Susan Harwood Grant Program. As a result, serious and fatal accidents on the job have been reduced. Now, the program is threatened.
We at Interfaith Worker Justice and our affiliate organizations across the country use Harwood grants to train tens of thousands of working people. It is a real help for workers in hazardous occupations or industries that don’t have union representation or regular contact with OSHA.
Acosta claims the administration is committed to defending the welfare of working people, but the department’s budget changes speaks for itself. A proposed 20 percent reduction to DOL’s overall budget would make working people less safe, and will discourage them from speaking up when abuses happen.
Even though Harwood program funding has been appropriated for this year, new guidance from the Trump administration will strip away the most vital pieces of the grant provisions, including its Capacity Building Grants which provided vital training funds.
To stop the injuries and deaths of working people, we must take a proactive approach to keeping working people safe. Congress must fund the enforcement of our nation’s labor laws adequately.
The war on workers continues in Congress, but for some determined people of faith and worker justice advocates, taking action to save an incredibly effective program is one way we can put feet to faith and speak up for justice.